Sunday, September 25, 2011

Upper Willow Video

Like a junky needing a fix and desperate for a source, I left a message on Timmy J's voicemail Friday afternoon:

"Timmy, do you know any kayakers who'd be up for Upper Willow tomorrow?"

Luc and Toby were interested if I could get more merriment in the form of more boaters. On the phone I told Thai that it was the best boating I'd done all summer, like the way Ship Creek used to feel back in the days before everyone knew that packrafts are real boats, and that he'd love the low flows and pool drops.

"OK, I'm in. Text me when and where."

Then I called Brad M, JT L and Joe McLaughlin, striking out with all three.

But Timmy came through, surprisingly passing up on the weekend's massive flows on Six Mile that the hard shell boaters were hitting again. Paul Schauer loaned him his 2011 red Llama.

So with Luc, Thai, and Timmy, two cameras, warm fall weather, around 225 cfs in Upper Willow and a little video from last Tuesday's romp on that creek with Tim, Trip, Johhny C, Matt P, and Bo I put this together -- it's worth watching twice to see Luc's combat roll and Thai's boof without thigh straps, as well as a real boater putting a red-colored, thigh-strapped 2011 Llama to the test.

After the run we did (only as far as just above Triple Drop), Timmy said, "You know, these new boats are awesome. So stable and fast. Harder to get airborne on a boof, but so nice on the landings. I'd leave my kayak behind and just take one of these to New Zealand. And putting a slab of minicell foam under the seat worked really well, you should try it."

So there you have it: packraft advice from a real boater.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Bunny-hop, Boof, and Bushwhack"

If I were 25 -- instead of 50 -- and feeling the urge to start another blog, that's what I'd call it, "Bunny-hop, Boof, and Bushwhack"as I guess those three words represent three of my three favorite outdoor activities.

Jon Underwood took me out on his latest creations, the mtnbike trails at Kincaid and I had to tell him that those Hillside trails now get a B grade compared to the new Kincaid ones. They are sweetly banked and somehow seem longer and more varied as well as more technical. The fall colors spilling across the ground and the sweet smell of autumn in sun were great.

But an even better high than that was running Upper Willow with Tim Johnson, John Combs, and Matt Peters, three Alaskan kayakers who knew the worth of thigh-strapped packrafts and SE boaters Trip Kinney and Bo Wallace, who had yet to see first hand Timmy J boofing off the countless drops in there. All of these guys are super good/fun boaters and paddled with big smiles on their faces as they made their playful way down the boulder drops of Upper Willow.

Paddling with people who are having fun is contagious.

Tim, Luc, Tony and I had run Upper Willow last year, too, finishing super psyched. Last Fall was a real turning point in packrafting as a handful of us ended a full season of thigh straps with Upper Willow, Magic Mile, and Upper-Upper Bird. Hoping to get a repeat of that this year, too, but I'd be happy with two more runs down Willow, really. It's like the boof-master writes in "Alaska Whitewater" on page 198, "This is easily one of the best (and most serious) whitewater rivers in Alaska."

It's amazing to read what Embick wrote twenty years ago about Willow Creek's "Upper-Upper Canyon", giving it ZERO stars out of his five star rating (Happy River and Charley Rivers each get five -- so does Alsek and Kiagna). He wrote in his 1994 guidebook: "Class V+ or VI- with five portages; not really recommended except for kayakers of extreme skill, willing to accept a high degree of commitment and risk......Andrew Embick made a solo run on May 29, 1986, in a Dancer.....No one has been back since. There's a good chance no one will."

My how times -- and boats --have changed. Granted, we ran it at 250 cfs, but it gets run regularly by the boaters in ANC at 800+ cfs. And for a handful of packrafters, there are so far only two portages.

Anyway, it left me feeling so good with its deep canyon multiple drops and clean water that I couldn't sleep the night after and I can not wait to run it again.

"Hi there. My name is Roman and I have an addiction. And that addiction is low water creeking at 400 feet per mile!"

Hopefully this weekend.......A few pictures from Trip's SLR, above ("Pancake") and below ("Gazebo" look for Timmy buried in the second shot and boofing like a rock star in the last):

So far, all of the drops have been packrafted except "Triple Drop" and "Aqualung", and everything is good down to and including "Maxwell House."

I am hoping to learn to boof half as well as Timmy on this run before I am 55. Oh and the 2011 boat still shines on techie little creeks like this, too.

And thanks again to Trip for the photos and all that crew for the good times.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Great Videos in no particular order

This is my favorite -- Devin Littlefield, an Alaska Pacific University (APU) student made it about the APU class "Swiftwater boating" taught by Paul Twardock with help from Timmy J, Jason Geck and me one day on Granite Creek.

I love the music and the editing.

Next up is Paul Schauer's run down the Tsaina, near Valdez. Paul's been cranking out the videos, but this one's my favorite of the last few he's done. Plus, it features Matt Peters and Jeff Shelton (among others), two super Alaska homegrown boaters who are also super people.

And then there is Luc's latest, and it's so good I am going to have to work extra hard and steal some of his musical ideas for my next one. It's a great trip report that would have been a contender in Dave Chenault's contest over at Bedrock and Paradox.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hiking and rafting between 6,700 & 15,500 feet in Meili Snow Mountain National Park, Yunnan, China

Dr. Yonde Cui of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and I picked Thai up at the airport in a 4x4 Mitsubishi with our Tibetan driver; climbed out of Shangri La over a pass; dropped down along the Yangzi and the Sichuan Border; then back up and over another pass (14,000 feet) to Deqen and Feilaisi, about a dozen miles as the raven flies from Tibet

The 200 km took six hours and we passed through country dry and scrubby, wet grasslands, oak, pine, larch, spruce, and fir forests, as well as yak grazed tundra.

About half the road was under construction and all of it was impressively perched along steep slopes.

The next day we drove down to around 6700 feet, crossing the Mekong River in its wildly steep Canyon (when do mountains become canyons and vice versa?), the color and volume of the Colorado at a good medium flow in the Grand Canyon, climbed up along a a desperately precarious one-lane road a thousand feet above, bumped along that to the driver's home town of Xidang, then hiked from 8,700 feet over a 12,000 foot pass into the Yubeng Village country where we started looking for ice worms above the yak meadows and talus slopes.

We looked hard, visiting a couple of Byron Glacier-style, but Himalayan-scale, avalanche cones by day (meltwater caves) and night (surface and crevasses), camping at 12,500 feet and climbing to a glacier at 15,000, nearly getting our heads blown off by a rock the size of a shipping box for the MacBook Pro 17 inch.

Back to Feilaisi and a happy hostel, we then drove north as close to the Tibetan Border as we could (20 km) without permits, then turned south again and scouted our most ambitious ice worm traverse -- up a side valley of the Mingyong Glacier to "Yak Herder" Glacier at about 15,500 feet, then over a col and across a second, dead glacier, and around on yak trails back to where we'd started.

On our last day we packrafted the Mekong River for a short bit -- very apprehensive as there are huge rapids and vertical walls in combination which we wished to -- and did -- avoid.

All of the peaks in the Meili Snow Mountain Range are unclimbed (with at least three over 6,000 meters) or at least they are unreported, as the range is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. If we'd had time and permission we'd have made the 150 mile pilgrimage route (Kora) around the mountain range using packrafts for at least a section on the Salween.

This was my first time to Tibetan Buddhism country and I was taken by the people and their culture and how it's so interwoven with the landscape and nature in general. The culture was as delightful as the mountains were beautiful. I now know why so many westerners hang prayer flags at home and others become Buddhists.

We had 10 days of sunny weather and met only sunny people, including the possy who chased us down.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Rescue" from Minyong: One Trip Report from Yunnan, China

Trails without sign posts, the Red Bull Trail, the first 24 hours, not just interested in you but respecting and admiring you as you do them, the police kid, the wildly waving man, the guy with the scratch on his leg, the park ranger (or superintendent?), the Yak Herder, the tame yaks, the yak herder's hut, the sketchy climb past the lowest waterfall, the sketchy bushwhack past the upper waterfall, avalanche gullies scraped down to bedrock and slick alpine tundra, the spacey head above 14,000, the crushed rhododendron that stung my nose like a soup spice did my tongue, bushwhacking through rhododendron mixed with birch and bamboo, zig-zagging down-trails through meadows ringing in yak bells, the deep bark of a mastiff a thousand feet below, giant hemlock five feet across with bear claws and the police boy tumbling off, jumping a cascade with the steaming maw of an ice cave just below, wondering what was to come of us, the cell phone call in the rhododendron to a female voice on the other side speaking English, the Yak Herder who looked like my Uncle Zinn and scrambled up a leaning birch to get better cell reception, his pack full with a liter and a half bottle of home made liquor, fry bread, herbs and roots and orange phallic mushrooms, and the furry genitals of a black Asian bear, with great pantomime stories of the hunt and the function of its medicinal powers.

The moraine ridge leading to the moraine covered in heather and lichen and dwarf rhododendron, flowers and plants like those back home and those we didn't know. The good solid rock five four maybe leading to where we could step onto the glacier with a view 7000 feet down to the Mingyong Village below. The Ranger's and Yak Herder's route discussions. The Yak Herder's speed and agility in soft green shoes with no apparent tread, his glee in pointing out our up-tracks in the dust of thar and yak trails, his excited voice on the phone announcing us, his discovery. The mixed birch and hemlock forest with an understory of rhododendron. The texture of the glacier, its headwalls and layered rock, its cracks. And the smooth, thinning icefall now ice ramp that fed it, the firn with no ice worms at 15,500 feet. The pass and the pika and thar tracks to the next glacier, it dead, no cracks, just white and black, handsome long tailed pipits like snow buntings picking slow crawling midges off the surface, but no worms. Huge boulders precariously balanced, posed to pin a leg, if not an arm, the glee of stepping onto tundra and following trails past bivy caves, huts, flowers and views in the shade of morning cloud after a week of high altitude sunshine had toasted my lips, the runs at 15000. Sleeping on everything I had, waking at 2 am for a jet boil brew. Scouting the route on the tourist boardwalk and walking with David, a Chinese researcher studying Tibet architecture. 7 hours up from the hut, class V and VI bushwhacking and climbing with class II brush as desperate handholds, horses in town walking the streets, tucktucktuck of a tractor, and horses looking for goodies like a sweet plastic bag on the street, gentle people living with their animals horses pigs and yak-cattle all tame and pettable. Little orange cats and massive black dogs on chains. Fear of rain, crossing yawning meltwater gorge on avalanche debris of old snow, rocks and a forest peeled from the hillside. Boulders marked with the year the glacier had passed there -- a km in five years of retreat. Scouting through binoculars handing them back and forth seeing the same routes Thai describes, splitting up to take trails see where they go, reporting, then debriefing. Squeezing melted fun sized bars into our mouths eating slightly stale chips from split bags and unbroken fresh ones from bloated bags. Coffee and poptarts for breakfast, red rhododendron flowers, fir trees, spruce trees, pine trees two kinds of hemlock, larch trees, cottonwood and aspen, a tinge of yellow up high but summer down low, tashi delay to dark-skinned-almond-eyed people and nee how to white-colored ones on horseback, everyone skinny, everyone happy, the long looks from Han women as we walked past shirtless, pointing to leftovers on tables for dinner (no language other than survival sign), popsicles and Beer at trailhead when all five "rescuers" leave but Police-boy and we not yet congratulating ourselves, going to the police station and again the English speaking female voice on the cell saying that we will not be fined but to "leave town as soon as possible", this spoiling our plans to packraft through town on the Minyong Glacier's runoff stream. Police-boy and the border guard drunk and staggering down the street, terraces from above, yak foothills, river gorge gardens and fields, high mountains for worship and life giving waters from ice and snow above.

The Yak Herder mimes how rocks fall his arms waving akimbo head shaking tongue rolling out eyes closed hands ringing his own neck, the lands above yaks are dangerous. He stops in His downhill run to show poison plants and dig for herbal ones. He tells us with hands milking and holding fingers to head and then pumping an imaginary pole that he is a yak milker and butter maker happy and smiley and fast uphill and down and jumping his fifty year old body (he looks) across waterfalls and gorges, slipping effortlessly down slimy slides and tangled thickets. He makes me feel cautious and slow and THAI falls several times the only time I see THAT. Police-boy his slouching down the trail his hat sideways his jacket hanging loose off one shoulder. The border patrol guy waving furiously to go his way and yelling my way off. Cameras and cell phones in their hands in the bush in far SW China. Sharing cigarettes and chocolate, building a little hut to show that we need to get stuff at the hut where we'd left gear hidden and a small bag of food hanging like an offering that they had accepted, and lots of wood and a clean space, they'd seen our headlamp lights and five had come looking and found us.

We didn't really know where it was, nor how to get to it, but the Red Bull Trail was down there somewhere, and then we found it, soon after the Yak Herder found us, eating raspberry crumble from the bag and drinking water from the creek, in Yunnan China one mile maybe two from Tibet, on mountains, unclimbed and unclimbably sacred off-limits to us, with no worms on their glaciers, alas, we have to come back to the high wet mtns of China again and we will.

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